Why Has J&J Won 3 Recent Talc Powder Ovarian Cancer Trials?

Legal News

A jury recently returned a defense victory in a talcum powder ovarian cancer trial, marking Johnson & Johnson’s third win in as many cases since talc trials resumed following the cancellation of cases across the nation due to COVID-19. 

Curiously, the verdict was reached on Sept. 27, in the same jurisdiction where 22 women were awarded a staggering $4.7 billion in 2018, over claims that J&J’s talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos, and that years of using the company’s talc products caused the plaintiffs to develop ovarian cancer. 

The 2018 verdict was the largest verdict J&J has ever faced. That trial lasted five weeks and featured nearly a dozen expert witnesses on both sides, Reuters reported. The award was eventually reduced to $2.1 billion and two women were removed from the plaintiff class. The $2.1 verdict against J&J was affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court and now stands after the U.S. Supreme Court declined J&J’s petition to have the case reviewed and overturned. 

At the end of 2018, Reuters then published an investigation, which revealed that J&J knew about the possibility that its talc products could become contaminated with asbestos, and failed to warn consumers about the risk of asbestos exposure causing cancer. 

But in the latest St. Louis trial and the two previous talc powder trials, juries found in favor of J&J. On July 30, a jury in St. Clair County, IL unanimously cleared J&J of liability and found that its talc products are safe and did not cause the cancer of a woman who died at age 62 and had used J&J’s talc products for over 40 years, according to the legal investigative news website, JD Supra

On Sept. 24, three days before the St. Louis verdict was announced, a Philadelphia jury, in the first talc powder cancer case ever to go to trial in Pennsylvania, cleared J&J of liability over a woman’s claims that the company’s talc caused her ovarian cancer, which was diagnosed 35 years after she allegedly began using the company’s talc powder products. 

In the Philadelphia trial, defendants successfully argued that the plaintiff’s cancer was not caused by contaminated talcum powder but rather by her genetic predisposition. The plaintiff is of Ashekanazi-Jewish heritage, which has been associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. 

Defense attorneys in the recent St. Louis trial successfully argued that since the three plaintiffs each had a different form of ovarian cancer, their cancers were not caused by asbestos particles travelling up the fallopian tubes, causing cancer decades later. However, plaintiff expert witnesses have testified in talc mesothelioma lawsuits that mesotheliomas can take decades to develop after initial exposure to asbestos. 

In the latest three talc powder ovarian cancer cases, juries have not been convinced that applying the powder outside the body can cause talc particles to travel up into the female reproductive anatomy and cause cancer. 

One of the plaintiffs in the St. Lous talc powder ovarian cancer trial died from ovarian cancer. Debra Marino passed away in 2015. Her family and co-plaintiffs attempted unsuccessfully to prove that J&J continued to market talc products decades after becoming aware of the association between talc, asbestos and cancer. 

In a previous talc mesothelioma trial, a plaintiff expert witness testified that it’s virtually impossible for talc to not be contaminated with asbestos. Talc and asbestos are both minerals that are located in close proximity to each other. When talc is mined and crushed into powder form, asbestos particles may travel into veins of the talc in quarries. 

J&J, facing thousands of talc powder lawsuits and declining sales, pulled its line of talc powder products off of North American shelves last year. As of August of this year, the company was facing approximately 35,000 talc powder ovarian cancer suits.


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